Alaska Airlines launched its inaugural flight to Havana, Cuba, at Los Angeles International Airport on January 5, 2017
LOS ANGELES, USA -- Alaska Airlines on Thursday launched the first regularly scheduled US commercial flights between Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba.
"LAX is America's gateway to the world -- and today, an exciting new chapter in US-Cuba relations begins at our airport," said Mayor Eric Garcetti. "I am thrilled to see the first-ever commercial flight from the West Coast to Havana take off from LAX, and grateful to Alaska Airlines for helping connect Angelenos with people and cultures from around the world."
Among the passengers onboard the inaugural flight were 50 political, business and cultural leaders from California and Washington state taking part in an educational and trade mission and who are eager to learn more about the island nation.
"We sometimes overlook the fact that air travel holds tremendous power to connect people and overcome boundaries," said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines' senior vice president of communications and external relations. "This new West Coast service is another historic step in opening up relations between our two countries and we're thrilled to host a delegation of trade, tourism and educational leaders to explore Cuba's capital city."
Joining the more than 20 economic, trade and educational organizations taking part in Alaska Airlines' Havana delegation were Sister Cities Los Angeles chairman Tom Gilmore and president Fabiola Vilchez. The two will begin an initial conversation regarding a city-to-city relationship between Los Angeles and Havana. Also, representatives from the University of California Los Angeles' Center for World Health joined the trip in hopes of exploring US medical trials for advancements in cancer and diabetes treatments developed by Cuban doctors and medical researchers.
One of the leaders participating in the trade mission is University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce, the first Cuban-born leader of a major American academic institution. Cauce left Cuba when she was three-years-old and went on to excel in teaching, scholarship and advocacy in the United States.
"I'm thrilled at this new spirit of openness and the opportunity for us to build greater ties with the people of Cuba," said Cauce. "We have much to share and learn about the Cuban people's work in health care and education. This visit is a high point for me personally and professionally."
Also participating in the trade mission visit is Bill Allen, president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. The LAEDC is interested in learning more about the emerging private sector that is taking root in Cuba along with beginning discussions on everything from infrastructure redevelopment to increased trade.
"Travel promotes people-to-people exchanges and holds the potential to foster understanding between the peoples and cultures of our two cities," said Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. "Opening up channels like this between Cuba and the West Coast through air service will further assist building these vital connections."
Havana inaugural flight isn't Alaska's first flight to Cuba
While the inaugural flight to Havana is a first for Alaska, it isn't the first time the airline has flown to Cuba. In the early 1970s, Alaska flew US Military Airlift Command charter flights to the base at Guantanamo Bay, as well as charters to Caribbean locations such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Panama.
The Havana flight will operate using a fuel-efficient Boeing 737-900ER.